By Fred Mitchell
Rick Allen & the Upsetters. Itís a real rock Ďní roll name, for a real rock Ďní roll band. Itís a band that knows how to make music you can party to, pump out a danceable groove and crank it up. And thatís the bag of tricks theyíll be dipping into this Saturday at Annieís Café in Ardmore.
The band consists of Rick Allen (guitar, lead vocals), Rick Toy (guitar), Al Kleinshmidt (keyboards), Roy Fisher (bass) and Jeff Pancoast (drums). The current lineup has been together for five years; the band was around for a number of years before that in various incarnations. And they know their mission in life.
"Weíre a bar band," says Rick Toy. "And I donít say that as a pejorative. We play Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones; if it was one generation removed it would be Count Basie and Benny Goodman."
Itís not that they donít write their own material. They work originals into their sets, and the members have been in bands that played primarily their own songs, opening up for national acts at the big clubs in and around Philly. And making next to no money.
Nowadays, they prefer to play two or three sets to a party crowd, playing the songs that people want to hear and mixing in a few of their own.
Rick Allen, who is a DJ at a major area rock station, has a big powerful, soulful voice thatís the bandís signature. Toy assesses the rest of the talent:
"Jeff and Roy have been playing together since they were teenagers. Theyíre frightening. Theyíre airtight. Theyíre telepathic. Alís the kid, because heís in his 30ís, and the rest of us are in our 40ís. And heís a hateful character, because he can pay keys, guitar, bass and drums. Heís somebody to envy. And then thereís me, struggling on my instrument for these 30 years," he says, with humility than accuracy.
Spontaneity, the time-honored rock Ďní roll tradition of flying by the seat of your pants, keeps things lively for the band and audience alike. Toy says, "We never have a set list, ever. So we never know what weíre going to do, ever. Sometimes weíll do stuff for the first time on stage. I call it on-the-job training. You never know - Rickíll call something out, and Iíll look over at Roy and notice that heís looking over at me with the same expression, and we both know that weíre screwed; neither of us knows it, and thatís when we both lean forward to look at Rick and see where his hands are on the guitar. It keeps it interesting. Itís sure more fun than having a set list, because you have to be on your toes."
So if you go see Rick Allen & the Upsetters, donít be afraid to call out a request. They just may give you a shot.